About a year or two ago, I made a promise to myself. A promise that I would make an honest, genuine effort to find out just what makes people squeal with delight at sandbox MMOs and RvR MMOs. So in an effort to meet that promise (and because Crowfall isn’t a release product yet), I leapt at the opportunity for this Rend alpha preview to find out just what it is about this type of game makes people so excited and to see where this intriguing mash-up of survival and RvR sandbox stands.
I do need to provide a bit of fair warning before I continue: some of the images are watermarked all to hell by the game just in case I decided to break EULA. Hopefully they’re not too distracting.
Right from the off, everything about Rend struck a few too many familiar tones to other survival titles I’d tried. You’re plonked into the middle of a field, given bare little instruction and even fewer materials, and told to not die. I sighed in exhaustion and took a few moments to scour the crafting tables available to me and found a number of simple recipes. Soon enough, I was working out how to gather and craft the most rudimentary of items.
So far, so dull.
Then, I made my way into the primary base of my faction and was struck by the sense of being part of something larger. The person who ended up being the one guiding everyone along had laid things out neatly, labeling storage boxes and placing them near appropriate crafting stations. There was a whole mess of not only places to improve myself provided, but a number of materials that I didn’t have access to yet.
Almost immediately, I mentally went into communal mode, taking what I felt could be spared, improving my equipment or crafting new items, and contributing to the factional effort how I could with harvested materials or crafted items. It was a neat trick, and suddenly hum-drum survival gameplay made sense.
Rend is definitely a game that seems to reward those who communicate, combine and work together to achieve goals, with a number of arching advancement systems that engender combined effort. Chief among these is the Research section, where Sparks of Genius based on four different crafting and advancement paths can be spent to yield faction-wide benefits like passive boosts, the ability to craft new weapons, and more.
This whole faction advancement angle all of a sudden made what were otherwise rote survival chores not a bother. The benefit of having a number of other people to support you was definitely tangible and regularly darting around hacking at trees, rocks, and bushes, or hunting animals for meat and hide suddenly bore more importance.
Even so, the actual gameplay beats of the survival aspect of Rend are definitely nothing to write home about. Perhaps it’s a matter of not reinventing the wheel here, but considering most of my time in-game was spent gathering I was hoping for something a bit more engaging.
I will say, however, that the personal survival things I had to mitigate like hunger and thirst felt tuned to be a regular bit of maintenance instead of a hindrance to actually playing the game, achieving a delicate balance that I’ve only otherwise seen a game like No Man’s Sky strike correctly.
The smart decisions of Rend don’t just stop at turning survival tedium into a goal for the greater good. The game’s factions are limited significantly in terms of size to 20 people for each of the three sides, meaning it will presumably be easier to herd the kittens of 20 strangers into a cohesive unit.
There’s also the personal advancement aspect as well. Starting off, you’ve got two different skill trees you can choose, and leveling up by performing tasks like harvesting plants and crafting items grants you a skill point to spend on improving yourself. When you get better, your faction does as well and I was gaining levels at a reasonable enough pace that I didn’t feel like I was grinding.
The biggest issue I see with this split advancement system, however, comes from those who perhaps play the game casually. If you’ve only got time to help out the faction for a couple of hours at a time, I could see players coming back and seeing new Research advancements that they can’t take advantage of because they’ve been away for a while. Presumably this is something that will be dialed in, but it is a question that I feel needs to be better answered.
I also would be remiss if I didn’t mention that my time in this test was a bit limited, so I didn’t get to experience a lot of the bigger moments that could make up this game. I wasn’t around during any of the Reckoning events where your faction base is under attack. I didn’t really take part in any direct PvP, with only a couple of random one-on-one encounters springing up. I also don’t feel like I was able to really explore, as the fringes of the “safe area” near my faction’s base had some pretty potent enemies.
Of course, there’s also the question of just how much community will actually build in this game. I will say that the people who were playing in the server I chose were generally friendly for the most part, but that might be more to ask of people when this game opens up to public consumption. Particularly people who will very likely actively try to troll a faction’s efforts.
There’s also a question of pacing. My time in the game didn’t really see the efforts of my faction advance in a big way. That’s perhaps by design, though; you have to consider the long game instead of trying to speed through to the highest tech tree possible like a game of classic WarCraft.
In spite of this, I find myself pondering my time in Rend and doing mental jumping jacks as I start to piece together what draws people into RvR games. Considering my own personal instinct was to do what little I could for my side, I can get where people are coming from.
So, is Rend worth buying into at early access and a complete game like the devs say it will be? I’m not convinced it is. At least not in the alpha builds I’ve played. There’s certainly a game here, but it’s perhaps a bit too rough around a number of edges to recommend buying immediately.
Even so, I feel like my time in Rend has opened my eyes a little bit more to the benefits and the good things about sandbox RvR games. Rend has some solid ideas going for it that just need a tiny bit more time to germinate into stronger features, but I have a fair bit of confidence that the folks at Frostkeep Studios have the chops to get it there.
Rend has absolutely given me a lot to think about and has all the potential in the world to be a great RvR PvP sandbox. It just needs a bit more time in the oven.Related: Alpha, MMO, Preview, Rend, RvR, Sandbox MMO, Survival Sandbox